Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Wu-Wei Story

All my life people have been telling me "you think too much" to which I've usually replied "too much for what?"

This accusation has always seemed indefensible...until now.
I do think a lot. As a matter of fact I think I suffer from being hyper aware of the flow of people and things around me. This condition seems to prohibit me from achieving a state of wu wei...

Wu-wei literally translates as “no trying” or “no doing,” but it refers to the dynamic, spontaneous, and unselfconscious state of mind of a person who acts with effortlessness and effectiveness. There are interesting dynamics between effort and practice and conscientiousness and reflection and mindfulness, and wu-wei. In my martial arts practice I have often been criticized for thinking too much. I don't think the problem is actually thinking too much, but taking too long to think. In the split moments of a fight it is easy for any conscientiousness or reflection to lead to what is effectively paralysis by analysis.

This reminds of one time when long ago when I used to go to the dojo three times a week. But on this particular evening I had gone out drinking with colleagues after work. Afterwards as I was waiting on the train platform to head home, who do I run into, but Sensei Anderson. He was headed to class and asked me if I was doing the same. It was that time after all. I explained to him that I had a few drinks so I wasn't sure if I should. He said "come on, just be careful." Sensei had always said I was very tense in class, and I always remember that this had been one of my favorite classes. I was just tipsy enough that I wasn't stumbling, but everything seemed to flow.

Edward Slingerland, professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia, and the author of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity asks if careful reasoning is the best approach to ensure well being. Instead, he offers the early Chinese philosophers' method of approaching problems indirectly using "wu-wei" which he likens to "The Force" in "Star Wars". Listen to the audio from The Brian Lehrer Show.

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